Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Each of Our Visitors Is Our Student, and Each of Us Is Their Teacher

This is an article I wrote for the Orange Empire Railway Museum's Gazette, their monthly newsletter, while I was in residence there last spring as a full-time volunteer.  It was an effort to help them along the road from being a club to being a museum.  I am a member.  I have added a few comments of clarification in square brackets and italics.

That is what we promised when we accepted Section 501(c)(3) non-profit status five decades ago. The people allowed our donors to receive a tax deduction (our life blood) and gave us a few other benefits, such as no property taxes and reduced postage on Gazette mailings. In return we committed to being a teaching institution. Our artifacts of Southern California railway heritage became the people’s and we promised to teach them about that heritage. Ever since the people bestowed upon us our non-profit status, we have been the custodians of this collection for the public’s benefit and we have worked hard to take care of it, but how are we doing in our commitment to teach them about it?

A visitor spends a few hours here. Does he or she leave realizing we have an operating signal system? Did the visitor learn anything about it? Yes, the signal garden could be a teaching tool, but falls short. So is our signaling system merely a hobby of a few guys with no larger value to society?

If a visitor is not at least 60, he or she could not remember streetcars running in a Los Angeles street. When I’m in the Ballash Carhouse (1), I get questions about the buses [it's a barn full of Los Angeles street cars and work cars]. When our guests leave here can they picture a streetcar running down a street connected to a 600V DC overhead wire? If they can’t, we have let them down.

When visitors stand next to our Southern Pacific “U-Boat” U25B [General Electric diesel engine] to have their picture taken is a member explaining the basics of a diesel-electric locomotive to them? They probably know trucks have diesel engines, that electricity comes from a wall plug, and that a motor runs their kitchen mixer. Who is explaining that they are standing in front of all that?

We have the instructional tools in our magnificent collection. We operate trains and do some teaching during the ride, we have a weekday docents program, we have a charter program, and we have a web site; but show and (a little) tell is only one level of teaching.

We will have a library and, of course, preservation of our achieves is extremely important.  But the typical visitors walking through the front gate will not (thank God) spend an hour digging through our old documents to teach history to themselves.

Today, it is far more necessary to educate the public about rail transportation. Fifty years ago, essentially everybody who came through our gate had ridden a train, a streetcar, and/or an interurban. The opposite is true now and most of our guests have never ridden on these modes of transportation. Thus the opportunity we have to teach, the knowledge gap we have to fill, and the possibility to spread our love for railway artifacts is nearly infinite.

I never quote scripture but one line from Luke keeps going around in my head as I write this. “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, that those who come in may see the light.”

We have hundreds, maybe a thousand lamps under baskets. I have pointed out only three — the signaling system, streetcar vs. bus, and the operation of a diesel locomotive. How many of our visitors are taught that we run on three track gauges and the historical reasons why? How many leave knowing what a track gauge is? We all can add many things to this under-the-basket list, but Randy [the newsletter editor] has only so much room in the Gazette... Well, one more, my favorite hidden artifact, the puzzle switch, so well hidden under its basket that many members don’t know what an interesting piece of simple engineering it is.

If every volunteer took the time to turn over just one basket, this place would meet its commitment. It comes of no surprise that good teaching is difficult, but it is extremely rewarding. Some explanations may require interactive displays. And yes, I know, it is more fun to operate trains, to put that final touch of paint on a PCC, or to work on the dream of Emma Nevada [a beautiful 3-foot gauge steam engine] running again. But all that constitutes only the beginning of our commitment to educate. To paraphrase a song: “These little lights of ours, we need to let them shine. Let them shine all the time. Make them shine.”

A much smaller railway museum in Snoqualmie, Washington has taken its teaching obligation quite seriously. A few years ago they hired a full-time educator. She has implemented an excellent set of teaching programs and is well on her way to becoming a very good curator. She is turning over their baskets.

As a member I helped her with an important one last summer. I put a railing in the cab of their articulated logging steam engine so visitors could have access instead of looking through a cab window. She also labeled all major components inside and out. I think you ought to clone her then each give her significant help turning over a basket of your choice.

As I complete my third winter here in the desert with you, I want to sincerely thank you. I have had the opportunity to look under your baskets. You have so much to teach the next generations, as you promised to when they bought in half a century ago. Good luck teaching the details of the contribution each of your artifacts made to the development of Southern California. Teaching is rewarding. You impart a little of yourself, your knowledge and love of trains, into your students.

I’ve been on the west coast for four years. Long enough! Trains and museums on the east coast call. But my intent is to come back some winter, if you’ll have me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Grand Observation Car You Can Ride, I Did

The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad of Alamosa, CO has a wonderful observation-lounge car from the Illinois Central Railroad.  The diamond drumhead on the rear reads City of New Orleans, the streamliner immortalized in the Steve Goodman folk song.  The train was inaugurated by the Illinois Central (IC) on April 27, 1947 as a day train running each way between Chicago and New Orleans with the Panama Limited running on an overnight schedule.  Amtrak now runs the City of New Orleans as an overnight train.

The car is the Mardi Gras.  Lets walk through her from the blunt end to the round end via the next three pictures.

Mardi Gras is one of two observation lounge cars rebuilt by the IC from older coaches in 1947 for use on their new City of New Orleans. The cars ran on the City until late 1968, before being retired and sold.  It passed through many hands, all of them caring, before arriving at her current home.

I rode in her round trip on May 27, 2012 from Alamosa in the San Luis Valley to the village of La Veta in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains -- a wonderful day trip.

Across from her bar/cafe mid-car is this stinning etched glass mirror.

And she still contains her built-ins.

As a Chicago boy I really appreciated this poster.

Some shots out her back windows.

And, as promised, a sing-along on the return trip.  When I rode I didn't know who the guy to the right in the light blue shirt leading the sing along was.  He's Ed Ellis and I was sitting in one of his many passenger cars on one of many of his railroads.  Ellis is the CEO of Iowa Pacific Holdings -- a modern-day railroad magnate of the good sorts.

And to top that, the train was pulled by a steam engine seen here turning around at La Veta.

A most pleasant day, lunch included.
The end.

See: for more technical detail.

P.S.:  Here is a photo of the car shot by Roger Puta in 1988 when it was owned by the Roanoke NRHS's.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Model T With a Built-in Turntable

The two-foot gauge Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum in Alna, Maine has one of the most unique rail cars anyplace.  The front end, including the engine, is Model T Ford.  The remainder is homemade to resemble other railcars.

So here you are riding down the 2-foot wide tracks on a beautiful summer day in the Maine woods about 50 miles northeast of Portland.

What do you do when you get to the end of the line?  From the middle of the car you crank down the turntable as this young lady is doing.

When you have the wheels off the tracks ...

... you rotate the car.  Note the turntable.

And you head back to the station.

And when you get back, you turn it on its turntable for the next trip.

Here are a couple more pictures.  In the first the Museum's steam engine is passing.  In the second you can see the raised turntable.

File this under fun with big boy toys.

For more on the steam engine please see my blog posting on my favorite Maine 2-foot steam engines.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Silver Star Pictured, December 27, 1971

For some reason I decided on December 27, 1971 to photograph each of the passenger cars on Amtrak's Train 81, The Silver Star, at Broad Street Station, Richmond, VA.  Amtrak was just seven months old and had only old, hand-me-down rolling stock and diesels to work with.

Broad Street is Richmond's main east west arterial and the Station is west of the business district.  During my train watching at Broad Steeet Station (1968 - 1972) all trains ran west to east through the Station and it served only the Seaboard Coastline (SCL) and the Richmond, Fredricksburg, and Potomac (RF&P) passenger trains running through town between Washington, DC and the south.  The SCL (ex-ACL and ex-SAL) and the RF&P tracks met west of the station and from that junction all trains, northbound and southbound, headed east to the station, entered the station's loop tracks, made their station stop pointing east, then looped back west to the RF&P/SCL junction.

The lead diesel that day was SCL E8A 589 assisted by a SCL B-unit and an RF&P A-unit followed by two baggage cars and nine passenger cars.  The first three pictures are of the train arriving via the station's loop. 

In this first picture the rear cars of the train (behind the leafless trees) are moving east but the diesels have entered the loop and are momentarily heading south. 

In the third picture the lead diesel is heading east again into the station proper.  Essentially the train made a sharp "S" curve.

Here the train has made its station stop and has looped back heading west toward the RF&P/SCL junction.

And here are the passenger cars.

RF&P 855 Coach, SCL West Palm Beach Sleeper, and SCL Cumberland County Sleeper

 SCL 5415 Coach, SCL 5912 Dinner, and SP 2363 Coach

UP 5475 Coach, PC 1533 Coach, and PC 1510 Coach

Yes I'm glad I took the time to photograph each passenger car.  Hope you enjoyed looking.

Marty Bernard

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Seashore's Exhibit Educates, A Review


Seashore Trolley Museum's Visitor Center building serves as its offices, board meeting room, book store/gift shop, ticket office, and exhibit hall/gallery.  Off the exhibit hall is a kitchen allowing the hall to host various functions.  Oh, the Center also serves as the depot for the trolley rides.

I'm reviewing the exhibit in the exhibit hall because:
  1. It is very well done
  2. On a modest budget
  3. Focuses appropriately on the history of local trolley car systems
  4. Is featured and augmented on the Maine Historical Society's online museum, The Maine Memory Network, and thus it teaches more than those who visit the exhibit

The Exibit

The exhibit consists of panels on the walls of the nearly square room plus a controlled number of supporting artifacts.  Below are two of the panels.

Next are two of the pictures with captions.

The exhibit's web page on The Maine Memory Network is:

The exhibit is an excellent augmentation to the museum.  I learned from it.  It reflects well the efforts of many people.  I welcome their comment and corrections.

Marty Bernard

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Two Favorite Maine 2-foot Steam Engines


Let me introduce you to two little girls.

Number 10 is loved at the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington (WW&F) Railway Museum located in Alna, Maine.  She runs Saturdays and many Sundays April through December pulling a few passengers cars on a few miles of long abandoned and now rebuilt 2-foot track.  Here she is seen running around her train at Alna Center.  The current-day WW&F runs from Sheepscot Station in the Sheepscot River Valley to past Alna Center Station as shown in red on this map:

The next lady is Maine Narrow Gauge Railway (MNGR) Co. Museum's #4.  She runs on a couple of miles of 2-foot track laid on abandoned standard gauge right-of-way along Portland, Maine's waterfront.  She gives a ride with beautiful views out over the water, but as you will see, I picked a day with little visibility.

Both girls have an 0-4-4 wheel arrangement meaning neither has leading wheels, both have four small drivers, and both have a 4-wheel trailing truck under their coal bin and water tank.  Yep, they are coal burners.

The Perfect 10

Her portraits were taken on the perfect Maine summer day of July 14, 2012.  First she is checked out, oiled around, and watered at the Sheepscot station and shop area.


In the picture above she has run around her train at Alna Center and is pushing it to the end of the line.  Both the conductor at the far end and the engineer mostly out the window are keeping close watch for mainly moose and deer.

Here she is at the Alna Center Station heading back to Sheepscot Station.  The railcar to the right in the siding is the subject of my blog post titled "A Model T With a Built-in Turntable".

Now she is back at the Sheepscot Station.  The buckets are full of cinders from the simple cinder pit below #10's cinder bin visible below her cab.  The cinders will be dumped in the parking lot to "pave" it and buckets will be returned to her side full of coal about the size of large gravel as are amazingly the cinders!

#4 Singing in the Rain

Have you ever gone out to be in the rain?  On an August Sunday morning I did.  If you want to photograph steam engines and you want the maximum amount of steam and smoke to show up in your pictures, when should you do it?  Right, in 100% humidity, i.e., in the rain.  And #4 put on a show for a few hardly train lovers.

Watering in the rain.

I don't think she minded the rain.

 Here she is getting her train moving.

And here she is running along the Portland Shoreline and parallel trail.

And two final attempts to take advantage of the lighting and the humidity.

My two favorite Maine 2-foot steam engines, not that I have met many!

Marty Bernard